The aim of “Future Science”, a collection of essays written by practising scientists who aim to give the interested amateur a sense of what is new and exciting in their respective areas. The essay format allows the reader to hear directly from the researchers, most of whom are young, and therefore probably at the peak of their scientific creativity, without the interpretations layered on by science journalists or other middlemen. This allows a fascinating peek into debates about whether life may be more common on frozen planets than earthlike ones, how mining the web for information can let us probe social trends, the evolutionary origins of altruism and more.
Given the vastness of modern science, such a book can only ever hope to be a potted guide to what is going on. The essays are dominated by investigations into a single species—Homo sapiens. There is plenty of evolutionary psychology, which attempts to explain the quirks of human behaviour by theorising about the evolutionary forces that shaped our brains, a dash of MRI imaging, a popular technique that allows researchers to watch in real time which areas of the brain are consuming the most energy—and, presumably, therefore doing the most thinking—as well as plenty of experiments in psychology labs; all of which provides a fascinating and very readable summary of the latest thinking on human behaviour. “Future Science” is fascinating.